Kerry Seeks Iraq’s Support On Move Against Islamic State

September 10, 2014

As President Obama prepares to address the nation to outline his plan for combating the spread of the Islamic State militant group, Secretary of State John Kerry is in Iraq for talks on the crisis with the newly installed government in Baghdad.

The president will deliver his televised speech at 9 p.m. ET. (Check back later for details on NPR’s coverage of the speech.)

Earlier this week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest described the new Iraqi leadership as a key to making it easier for the U.S. to enlist support from Sunni fighters on the ground. Obama has said repeatedly that his strategy against the Sunni-led Islamic State does not include the use of U.S. ground forces.

Opinion polls show growing support for action against the militant group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which has made significant territorial gains in Iraq and shocked the American public with its gruesome murders of two U.S. journalists.

Last week, the U.S. announced a core coalition — consisting of the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark — aimed at containing the Islamic State.

“We’re now at the stage of beginning to build a broad-based coalition,” Reuters quotes a senior U.S. State Department official as saying. “There is, of course, military support, and that’s everything from logistics and intelligence and airlifts and all the things it takes to conduct an effective military campaign.”

Kerry’s arrival in Baghdad, just two days after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s new Cabinet was sworn in, marks “a crucial step toward restoring stability in a nation where security has spiraled out of control since the beginning of the year,” The Associated Press says.

On Monday, Kerry hailed the formation of the new government, which picks up the reins from the often divisive tenure of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as a “major milestone” in the U.S. strategy to combat the Islamist insurgency that threatens to undo years of post-war nation-building in Iraq.

Kerry is expected to meet with Abadi, a Shiite politician, as well as Iraq’s new president, Fuad Masum, a Kurd and Salim al-Jubouri, the Sunni speaker of parliament, The New York Times reports.

The Times says:

“Iraq will have a ‘critical role’ in the effort to ‘degrade and ultimately eventually defeat’ ISIS, a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Mr. Kerry, ‘and that will be the main focus on his talks.’

“Iraq is still riven with sectarian divisions, which ISIS has exploited by playing on the Sunni resentments against Mr. Maliki, many of whom continue to harbor suspicions of Mr. Abadi’s efforts.

“One major initiative to roll back ISIS’ gains in Iraq, American officials said, is the establishment of national guard units that would be recruited locally and given the main security responsibilities in their home areas.”

Update at 10:35 a.m. ET. Kerry Says Obama To Lay Out Plan ‘With Great Specificity’

Speaking in Baghdad, Kerry says: “When the world hears from President Obama this evening, he will lay out with great specificity each component of a broad strategy of how to deal with ISIL.”

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